An artistic skating team in Gastonia came back from a national competition last month with seven medals and qualifications to compete internationally.
Team Kate’s artistic roller-skating team competed from July 2-15 in Lincoln, Nebraska. In total, they earned five gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal.
Their team show group qualified to compete in the World Skate Games under their coach, Nekoe Buckner, and skater Matthew Heilig qualified to compete in the World Skate Games for solo freestyle.
Buckner said that some people do not know what to think of when they hear “artistic roller-skating,” but that it is similar to ice skating.
“We costume, skate, do everything exactly the same, but you have wheels instead of a blade,” she said.
The show group dressed up as bees and performed to a mashup of songs, including “Imma Be” by Black Eyed Peas. Their performance was called “Bee Livin’ That Good Life,” and the theme was, you guessed it: bees.
“It’s just a bee thing,” said Buckner.
The show group was made up of Team Kate’s members Becca Maier, Ava Buckner, Claire Heilig, Bryanna Lester, Matthew Heilig, Jennifer Nussbaum, Sumana Saravanamuthu, Sirish Saravanamuthu, and Jorge De la Rosa.
Fourteen-year-old Matthew Heilig competed individually in Junior World Freestyle and Cadet Freestyle, where he earned two gold medals. The junior events are for competitors aged 12-17, while senior events are for those aged 17 and above.
He now qualifies to compete in the World Skate Games this November in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Out of both junior and senior teams, 25 people qualified for the world championship, Matthew Heilig being one of them.
Matthew Heilig said he progressed quickly after his last national competition in 2021, so his coach offered him the chance to compete in World Freestyle for the first time.
“I took the offer,” he said, “and I was just like ‘I’m just going to see where it goes,’ because doing it for experience is good, too, even if I didn’t win.”
Matthew Heilig attends Forestview High School in Gastonia and has hopes to become a travel coach, where he can coach people in countries that are not able to compete internationally.
His coach said there are a lot of strong countries that do not have the necessary training.
As a travel coach, people from other countries would pay him for lessons. Matthew Heilig may stay in one country for two weeks or up to a year. Some underrepresented countries may not have facilities and would require to be taught outside on concrete instead of coated cement or polished wooden floors.
Ava Buckner, 16, competed in Youth Solo Free Dance and went out with a bang for her last year doing Creative Solo, where she earned her first gold medal. She will now be competing in Junior World Solo Dance. She said she competed despite her boot being ripped apart and held together by duct tape.
“Her dream, in that event, was to win,” said Nekoe Buckner, “and if she could win, she knew she could move on to the next stage of her career to work toward making it to worlds in a solo event.”
Bryanna Lester, 16, made it to her first final round in Open Creative Solo. She and Matthew Heilig also competed in the Youth Team Free Dance as a pair for the first time and won a silver medal.
“Me and Matthew, before that, we were always playing around with lifts and stuff,” Lester said, “and then we finally got to do it and compete with it, so I think we’re both pretty proud with that.”
“We’re happy with it,” Matthew Heilig agreed.
Claire Heilig, Matthew’s 12-year-old sister, made it to the finals in Elementary Creative Solo and Solo Free Dance and competed in the show group for the first time this year.
“I’ve been wanting to [compete in the show group] for a couple of years,” Claire said, “just because a lot of the older kids are in there, and just having a group that does everything together is really cool, especially doing things outside of skating. When you’re in that group, it’s really nice.”
The team also had adults participate in the national competition, including 40-year-old Jennifer Nussbaum, who earned her first gold medal in Classic Women Singles.
Finally, their “Jekyll and Hyde Quartet” received a bronze medal for their performance on Jekyll and Hyde’s story. The group was made up of Jennifer Nussbaum, Matthew Heilig, Ava Buckner, and Sumana Saravanamuthu.
To qualify for nationals, the group team and individuals compete in a regional competition every year. Out of nine regions throughout the United States, Team Kate’s competed in the Southeast region last June.
Even if they make it to the nationals, only certain events qualify for the World Skate Games.
“That’s what they strive for in the events they’re in now,” said Buckner. “They’re striving to be in a world event so that they can, one day, have that goal of going to Worlds. That’s the ultimate goal in artistic roller skating.”
Buckner started coaching 30 years ago in California, where she used to compete. In 1998, she moved back to coach in Gastonia, where she grew up. “I grew up all my life skating,” said Buckner, whose parents also competed in roller-skating. “I had a pair of skates when I was a year old. This one is my daughter,” she motioned to Ava. “She got a pair of skates when she was a year old.
“It gets passed down in our family.”
Anyone interested in trying roller skating out for themselves can show up to Kate’s Skating Rink for one free class from 10-11 a.m. at 4114 E. Franklin Blvd., Gastonia. No sign up is required for the first class. Buckner said that those who want to continue may buy a class pass online at www.katesonline.com and choose the Lowell location.
People may also sign up for private lessons and start learning routines for their yearly show, which generally takes place in November. Since the World Skate Games take place the first week of November this year, they plan to hold their annual show in January 2023 in the same building as their classes.
The yearly show is used as a fundraiser to allow Team Kate’s artistic roller-skating team to help pay for the World Skate Games. They have enough funds to send Matthew Heilig this year, but they have never been able to pay for their show group to compete in the world championship despite qualifying three years in a row.
Their goal is to fund the whole team so they can go to international competitions without worrying about money.
Luc Séguret, a rising senior at Western Carolina University, is working as a reporter for The Gaston Gazette until he returns to school in August. He can be reached at 828-206-2544 or email him at LSeguret@Gannett.com